Address to the
Third Committee of the UN General Assembly
4 November 2002
Discurso dirigido ao terceiro comitê da assembléia geral da ONU em 04 de novembro de 2002
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Being tasked with the mandate of High Commissioner for Human Rights is both an extraordinary privilege and a heavy responsibility. I am honored by the confidence bestowed on me by our Secretary-General and the General Assembly.
On 24 September, I outlined some ideas before the informal meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights about how I intend, with your assistance, to approach my task. I reflected that over thirty-three years of assignments around the world, in which I have seen both the best and the worst of what people have to offer each other, have taught me that human rights are about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all human beings everywhere. I am also convinced that human rights are not complicated to understand. We should avoid the tendency to obfuscate our discussions on this crucial matter: we all know, after all, instinctively, when rights are being violated.
Last month, the world yet again was shocked with the attacks on Bali and the hostage-taking crisis in Moscow. These acts further underscored the profound feelings of insecurity that many people experience across the globe following the heinous attacks in the US last year.
No cause can justify terrorism, Mr. Chairman. Such a phenomenon must be universally and unequivocally condemned. Successfully countering terrorism, however, requires more than a rigorous strategy of appropriate law enforcement, vital though that is. It also requires a longer-term and more holistic approach, as well as the determination to ensure that all of our rights are truly enjoyed by all: particularly when it is one of the very goals of the terrorists to force us into actually denying these rights.
One need not look far for attainable ideals that can provide an antidote to terrorism and insecurity. Respect for human life and dignity, which form the basis of our human rights norms, are after all values that are shared by all cultures and religions. A comprehensive strategy to establish global security must be grounded in promoting respect for human rights through upholding the primacy of the rule of law, fostering social justice, and enhancing democracy.
Human rights violations risk breeding hatred, resentment, and ultimately violence. It is worrying, Mr. Chairman, that some States have taken advantage of the current climate to pursue policies that could be used to quell legitimate political dissent and suppress fundamental freedoms. On 21 October 2002, I had the privilege of briefing the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee and discussed with its Members how my Office might be able to cooperate to ensure that efforts to counter terrorism enhance, rather than undercut, the rule of law, and I am sure that most of you will have read this statement.
Ensuring security for all is no doubt one of our most important priorities today. Our security today is threatened in many ways of which terrorism is only one, particularly foul though it is. We need to seriously address claims of discrimination and racial hatred, so often the auguries of destructive conflicts. We must also remember that other challenges are no less pressing: I am thinking here of the uphill struggle against extreme poverty, underdevelopment and HIV/AIDS. And I am thinking of the ongoing search in many countries for social justice.
Appearing before the General Assembly, one cannot help but recall the more than half-century of rule making and standard setting that has gone on here. Countless conventions and declarations have been forged here to become part of the impressive corpus of international law that now potentially stands as one of the greatest legacies of the last century.
During this session of the General Assembly, you will have the opportunity to add a new instrument, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. I encourage you to do so. The Optional Protocol seeks to reinforce one of our core conventions by contributing to the prevention of a repugnant violation that is still too prevalent.
With the work of the Ad Hoc Committee that considers proposals for a comprehensive convention on the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, we might also be able to welcome another fundamental instrument soon.
International human rights law, international humanitarian law, international refugee law and international criminal law: each chapter of this corpus stands as a fundamental defence against assaults on our common humanity. Taken together, they provide common ground in a richly diverse world, and common principles in a rapidly changing world.
The very power of these rules lies in the fact that they protect even the most vulnerable, and bind even the most powerful.
No one stands so high as to be above the reach of their authority. No one falls so low as to be below the guard of their protection.
Thus, the basic rules in defence of all our rights address every State and every political movement, every regular army and every armed or irregular group, every public institution and every private corporation, every group and every individual.
But I have called this a “potentially” great legacy, Mr. Chairman, because if this body of laws is to be ultimately judged as such, it will have to be applied, and applied universally. Much progress has been achieved since the Millennium Assembly on the ratification of core human rights treaties. At this stage, every Member of the United Nations is a party to one or more of the core human rights conventions. But there is more to be done if the universality of these laws, and their application, is to become a reality.
As I told the Commission in September, the principle of the rule of law will form the centerpiece of my approach as High Commissioner for Human Rights. The rule of law requires that the entire range of institutional arrangements that function under the national constitutional and legal order play an active role to ensure that human rights, based on international commitments, are advanced, realized and adequately defended.
We have already begun. In recent months my Office has worked to enhance its attention to the strengthening of the rules, processes and institutions of the rule of law. A newly established Rule of Law and Democracy Team is helping to focus our approach in this area. This team will work closely with our UN system partners who are approaching similar issues in the context of either development, or peacekeeping or humanitarian protection and assistance.
In the coming months, I intend to carefully review our cooperation and assistance programmes to ensure that we are giving the best possible support to each of the necessary categories of institutions at the national level, including the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government, as well as independent national commissions and organizations of civil society at all levels.
Conflict often emerges where the rule of law collapses. I am often concerned that distance serves to dull our senses as to the truly awful, destructive impact that conflict has on those caught in the maelstrom. We must not let that happen. Massacres, destruction, brutality, rape, displacement, fear, hunger, and trauma: these form the caravan of conflict and, once in train, they are very hard to stop, as I have witnessed all over my career. It is critical, therefore, that where we can, we resolve to commit in a more serious way to prevention, rather than picking up the pieces afterwards.
If we are to move forward, it is essential that all States and armed groups alike must entirely reject the negligent, reckless, or intentional targeting of innocent civilians in all cases. I will seek your support in ensuring that any abuse of this fundamental rule of human conduct be addressed through the effective functioning of the rule of law itself, lest endless cycles of attack and counterattack, provocation and revenge, continue to spiral out of control, with civilians paying as a rule the highest price.
We have many tools at our disposal. Honoring the provisions of humanitarian law provides an important step. We must also give a fair chance to the International Criminal Court to reach its potential of countering impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is a historic moment as States Parties are nominating their candidates to serve as the first judges on this Court. May I take this opportunity to encourage State Parties to nominate suitable women candidates to allow for fair representation of female and male judges on the Court as the Rome Statute requires? Let us not thwart some of the most important advances on gender justice that are embodied in the Statute by failing to act in practical ways to implement them.
Mr. Chairman, Among many, many others,
I am deeply concerned about the tragic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel. This protracted conflict has already claimed countless innocent lives. Respect for human rights and dignity has now reached some of its lowest points in decades. There is fear, indiscriminate murder, destruction, humiliation, economic hardship and humanitarian crisis. The vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks with more civilian victims every day must stop and mutual respect must be embraced. Israelis and Palestinians need to pursue a human rights-based path to peace to stop the fear and mistrust and ensure a secure future for both peoples. Neither side can win through violence or repression: rather, both will continue to lose.
The recent outbreak of violence in Cote d’Ivoire requires us to think harder and act faster on prevention. I am deeply disturbed by current reports of summary executions, arbitrary arrests, attacks based on nationality, ethnicity or religious beliefs, hate speech, destruction of private property and population displacement. The Government to whom I wrote and the armed groups must take all necessary measures to end the suffering of the civilian population and to comply, as a minimum, with the provisions of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. I call on them to cooperate with the negotiations being carried out by the mediators of the Economic Community of West African States and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to guarantee the respect for human rights and to improve rapidly the humanitarian situation.
Many thousands have perished as a result of the long conflicts in the Great Lakes region, particularly in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area I know fairly well. Massacre after massacre has occurred over the years with impunity. Resources have been diverted to militarism while the population at large continues to face urgent humanitarian needs and protection. We must multiply our efforts to press for an immediate resolution to these two conflicts to allow for stability and a move towards reconstruction.
When societies end their conflict and commit to reconstruction and peace building we must redouble our efforts to support them. I would like to say a word about Sierra Leone where we are assisting its people to establish the truth about the past and move towards the future. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone, which was launched in September, is a promising institution that needs adequate resources as I learned in East Timor not so long ago. I am committed to working with partners, and I appeal to you, to ensure that the resources it needs are met. It is a worthwhile cause.
Let me also mention Afghanistan, where we are determined to work with the Government, civil society and our colleagues in UNAMA to build a strong post-conflict human rights culture in the area of women’s rights, human rights education and transitional justice through support to the newly-established Afghan National Human Rights Commission that I just mentioned.
But our work will not only focus on countries emerging from conflict. We will work constructively with all countries to enhance human rights protection. OHCHR is already working with more than 40 countries to strengthen judicial independence, to train judges, lawyers, prosecutors, police and prison officials and to facilitate the free and active engagement of organizations of civil society in public affairs. At the same time, we will continue to address violations to ensure that transgressions are redressed.
There is no doubt that securing the rule of law will demand a new commitment from all our partners. Human rights will triumph where they are nationally owned. We need to enhance this national ownership by assisting all countries to understand the need and to develop the capacity to implement human rights norms at the domestic level. And we need to ensure that these norms are known and accessible by all.
Civil society has a vital role to play in enhancing this national ownership. I look forward to developing real partnerships with all those who uphold the rule of law, promote tolerance within and between societies and demand human rights and freedoms, not just for narrowly defined constituencies, causes, or interests, but for all, especially the most threatened and the most vulnerable.
I look forward to working with the private sector as well, through the Global Compact and beyond. In our globalized world, we must reach out to all those who impact upon the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, as well as the right to development.
Mr. Chairman, when the concept of the rule of law is applied to the problem of poverty and deprivation, what emerges by function of logic is the right to development. The plans, processes, policies and programmes of human development are among the most important elements of public affairs in every country. The right to development demands free, active and meaningful participation, effective and honest governance, social justice, strong international cooperation and solidarity, and rights-based and gender sensitive approaches at every stage of the development process.
I remain convinced, because I always was, of the indivisibility of all human rights. I will continue to be a zealous advocate for the right to development recognizing the need to free all individuals from fear and want. We will provide the highest level of support to the open-ended working group on the right to development. And we will work to ensure that our own assistance programmes are more fully and effectively integrated into national development planning and programming with many Member States since my appointment.
As we deliberate the difficult issues of our time, from oppression and terrorism to hunger and inequity, we must reflect most of all on our ability to move forward. Here I am particularly thinking of the effectiveness of the Commission on Human Rights and I am delighted we have its Chairman today with us. We must bring deliberations of this body to the forefront. I told the Commission in September that it – we – must not let down the victims of human rights violations who continue to look to it for protection. Members of the Commission should be ready to cooperate with its mechanisms. I am pleased by the growing number of countries that are issuing standing invitations for the Special Rapporteurs and other special procedures to visit. All States should do the same, particularly the Members of the Commission.
I am also working to strengthen the capacity of my Office. But I need your assistance. I am sure that you will agree that giving this Office less than 1.54% of the regular budget of the United Nations is at odds with the importance given to human rights in our Charter.
In his recent report on the reform of the Organization, the Secretary-General urged us all to recognize the necessity for this Office to consolidate its strengths. This was also highlighted in the extremely welcome report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) concerning the Management review of my Office. We are proceeding in a measured and staggered but determined fashion to implement the recommendations contained therein. Moving in this way will help inform my report, called for by the Secretary-General, on how best to strengthen the management of my Office and better serve those in need and you, Member States. I will submit this report by March of next year.
Let me say in conclusion Mr. Chairman that, in this age of growing fear and uncertainty, we must more than ever seek solid foundations for our security. Respect of human rights indeed forms the most solid of foundations.
Thank you Mr. Chairman